Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

On Clint Eastwood and the chair.

I’ve dragged a kitchen stool from the eating area, placed it beside my desk and imagined that Hollywood’s stoniest enigma is sitting upon it. Why did you do it, Clint? You’ve always had such dignity? Who talked you into it? …

Sun, Sep 2, 2012, 22:17

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I’ve dragged a kitchen stool from the eating area, placed it beside my desk and imagined that Hollywood’s stoniest enigma is sitting upon it. Why did you do it, Clint? You’ve always had such dignity? Who talked you into it?

You will, of course, be aware that, late last week, Clint Eastwood addressed the Republican Party National Convention in stormy Tampa. He began in fairly (no pun intended) conventional fashion before going on to produce an empty chair and address the piece of furniture as if it contained the (pun intended) sitting President. Aside from anything else, the act demonstrated a taste for avant garde staging that we rarely encounter in his work as a film director. You didn’t catch Josey Wales ranting at imaginary protagonists. When did Clint get so Beckettian?

Much of the subsequent criticism characterised the performance as rambling and embarrassing. Such esteemed liberal organs as the New Yorker and the Huffington Post took it as read that the turn had been something of a disaster. Clint asked: “So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” The joke didn’t quite come off. The accusations were not backed up with much evidence. In particular, the hand drawn across the throat was spectacularly ill-advised. One can only imagine how Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck would have reacted if, say, Jane Fonda had mimed severing George W Bush’s jugular. They’d be threatening to send the woman back to Hanoi.

All that noted, the performance (and it was a performance) didn’t strike me as any sort of catastrophe. When set beside the sub-Nuremberg ranting of Mrs Palin four years ago, it seemed modestly amusing, rather charming and agreeably idiosyncratic. There was certainly a creative mind at work. I don’t want to sound too much like a Burt Wingnut of Fox News. But (cue horrific gothic organ chord)  the LIBERAL MEDIA does seem to have run away with itself in its knee-jerk denunciation of Waiting for Obama.

The real question is this: why has Clint chosen this point to pin his colours to the rampaging Republican party elephant? He is, of course, entitled to express conservative views. Lord knows, we have had our fair share of liberal Hollywood windbags bellowing about this or whinging about that. Tim Robbins (who, incidentally, regards himself as Eastwood’s pal) can’t buy a pack of gum without making a statement concerning the mistreatment of Native Americans. Sean Penn is forever chaining himself to some railing or other.

By way of contrast, Clint has always been characteristically enigmatic about his political views. True, he supported Nixon in 1968 and 1972. That was, however, a long time ago and he went on to acknowledge that Tricky Dicky was wrong about Vietnam and dishonest in his everyday political machinations. On occasion, he has turned out to support Democrats. Liberal on most social issues, he once described himself thus: ”I don’t see myself as conservative, but I’m not ultra-leftist. … I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone. Even as a kid, I was annoyed by people who wanted to tell everyone how to live.” He did serve as a Republican when elected as mayor of Carmel. But he never came across as a party beast.

Parsing his films for clues as to his political leanings only muddies the waters further. True, one can detect a taste for vigilante justice in many pictures. Co-written by the great John Milius — a man rarely confused with Leon Trotsky — Dirty Harry is as right wing a film as you could ever hope (or fear) to experience. Heartbreak Ridge appeared oddly non-judgmental about the US’s highly dubious intervention in Grenada. On the other hand, the underrated J Edgar does not go easy on the US security apparatus. When Clint came to address the War in the Pacific, he acted like a raving ACLU supporter and balanced Flags of our Fathers (the American story) with Letters from Iwo Jima (the Japanese perspective).

To this point, Clint gave the impression of a man who, if sufficiently troubled by a particular issue, would take to the hustings and make his voice heard. Among his reasons for running as mayor of Carmel was a determination to repeal an edict banning the public eating of ice cream. There’s a libertarian issue if ever I heard one. Otherwise, he seemed content to keep his views pretty much to himself.

The performance last week has done him no favours. Conservatives always reckoned that he was on their side. Liberals also felt he skewed rightwards, but, noting his reticence to stand behind any candidate, always felt able to pretend he was a closet beatnik (after all, he is the world’s biggest jazz fan). Did the controversy over that recent Chrysler advertisement spur him into action? Aired at half-time during the Super Bowl, the commercial, by referencing a resurgent Detroit, persuaded some commentators that Clint was praising Obama’s efforts at economic reconstruction. If nothing else, his behaviour in Tampa annihilates the notion that he was supporting Barack by stealth. Unfortunately, it also served to eliminate much of the political ambiguity that has decorated his mighty form for the last 50 years.

All that noted, it seems very unlikely that the turn with cause many liberal movie fans to turn their backs on Clint Eastwood. The man is quite rightly rated among the most beloved artistic figures in contemporary American life. He created a heroic image to rival that of (no political shilly-shallying here) John Wayne. He remains one of cinema’s great storytellers. Are you listening to me, kitchen stool? You are not (ahem) unforgiven. Heck, there’s nothing to forgive, old fellow.